Review Summary: A great album, nothing fantastic but truely a great album. A must listen for classic grunge fans, and something different to come out of Seattle than Nirvana and Soundgarden.
Screaming Trees were right in the middle of grunge’s “breeding ground”, none other than Seattle. Forming in 1983 Screaming Trees jumped from indie labels like Sub Pop and SST, and then finally moved to a major label Epic Records in 1989, becoming one of the first to do that. Sadly for Screaming Trees they didn’t experience the popularity and success of similar grunge bands and friends Nirvana and Soundgarden. One reason that Screaming Trees fell short of the mark was because of drinking and fighting, which turned into several short break ups. In 1992 Screaming Trees released “Sweet Oblivion” which had some good success. Mark Lanegan’s vocals are an essential part to Screaming Trees’ sound also similar to Nirvana and Soundgarden’s vocals. Though Lanegan has a different style, he stays at a lower, much smoother voice. Like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell, Lanegan can change the volume of his voice well, but just not as erratic as Cobain and Cornell do. Screaming Trees’ guitarist Gary Lee Conner is a very consistently good guitarist, but not mind blowing in any way. Ranging from hard rocking riffs upbeat, to slow soft riffs, he can get the job done. Van Conner (Gary Lee’s brother) is basically the same as his brother in the way he plays, nothing really great, but consistently good throughout. Mark Pickerel is a hard pounding drummer, that used to be a lead singer. He’s almost like Dave Grohl, but not as edgy, more clean and smooth, like Lanegan in comparison to Cobain. All in all when you hear Screaming Trees you think of catchy riffs, rich, soft yet strong vocals, and a guaranteed good listen, and “Sweet Oblivion” includes all these factors.
“Shadow of the Season” starts off “Sweet Oblivion” and does a good job of it. With a semi-hard riff that goes into hard pounding drumming and Lanegan’s soft vocals. Then the riff picks up along with the vocals, showing you early how loud Screaming Trees can get. A steady bass line by Van backs up a few solos by Gary Lee for about 30 seconds during the middle of the song. During the chorus you start to realize how much Lanegan’s voice gets stuck in your head, I kept hearing him sing the chorus of this song for hours even after I listened to it. The next song is the most popular off the album, its called “Nearly Lost You”. Most know it from the “singles” soundtrack which was a romantic comedy that was released in 1992 as well as “Sweet Oblivion”. First the song starts off with a strong drum beat that sticks to your head like hot glue off a glue gun. A catchy guitar riff goes great with Lanegan’s deep rich voice, which is why he doesn’t sing a whole lot higher than he does in the beginning. The rest of the song stays the same, has some ups, some downs, but still one of the better songs on this album. “Dollar Bill” is the third song on “Sweet Oblivion”. It starts off with a soft guitar riff that almost sounds acoustic, then Lanegan sings very low and soft, and then everyone else comes in playing soft for the most part. Lanegan’s vocals stay soft for the most part, just as does the rest of the band’s play for a good part of the song. A guitar solo or two is laced here and there that keeps the song interesting.
Heavy bass and guitar play makes up the intro for the fourth song on “Sweet Oblivion” which is “More or Less”. Staying at a faster heavier beat than “Dollar Bill”, “More or Less” is somewhat repetitive, but again some solos and rhythm singing keep the listener interested. An amazing guitar riff intro that is guaranteed to please your listening pallet starts off the fifth song on the album “Butterfly”. “Butterfly” is the most fast paced song on the album so far, adding great somewhat heavy guitar riffs, good solos, and a great show of vocal range. All these things make this the most enjoyable track on the album to me. “For Celebrations Past” keeps the faced paced beat fresh in your mind, and almost sounds like it picks up from the end of “Butterfly”. Repetitiveness plagues Screaming Trees and “For Celebrations Past” is one example of this. That said, its still a good song, what Screaming Trees does to get rid of repetitiveness is add well timed high points, and show off Lanegan’s vocal range. Towards the end of the song “For Celebrations Past” picks up immensely and saves the song.
“The Secret Kind” starts off fast paced, and powers through this way until the chorus. Then the song drops off a bit, with lower vocals, softer slower riffs, and even softer drum beats. This only happens for a small period of time, then everything explodes back up, and stays at a frenzied pace making “The Secret Kind” the quickest song on “Sweet Oblivion”. Faster play continues through a solo that then brings in Lanegan to begin singing the chorus that slows things down a small bit once more. Following a tough act to beat “The Winter Song” slows down things a bit. A soft guitar riff opens up the song, signaling low, smooth, rich vocals that Lanegan sings so well. Even the high points of the song don’t break out of a slow feeling that much, but it’s a way to give listeners a break. A guitar solo ups the tempo a bit, but then the song reverts back to the soft, slow sound. “Troubled Times” keeps the low tempo sound going, and picks up where “The Winter Song” leaves off. With short guitar solos before each high point the beat quickens and keeps you listening. Even with a fast paced beat, and good high points “Troubled Times” isn’t a whole lot to speak of, and sounds similar to other tracks on “Sweet Oblivion”.
“No One Knows” sports a good enjoyable bass line, and is some of Van Connor’s best bass work on the album. His brother Gary Lee steals the show at times with some short guitar solos, and a steady soft riff throughout. Lanegan’s vocals stay at a higher, louder range changing things up and making “No One Knows” a different kind of track. Gary Lee shows off with some solos before the ending of the song, then the song drifts down into low tempo and then ends. “Julie Paradise” is the eleventh and final song on “Sweet Oblivion”. A soft guitar intro that is similar to other intros on this album starts off “Julie Paradise”. This of course means you guessed it, soft very low vocals by Lanegan. But then again Screaming Trees mixes it up to fight repetitiveness, after about a minute of a slow, soft, low, sound that appears many times on the album Screaming Trees break out into a fast paced beat that plays cat and mouse with the beginning sound of the first minute. Finally towards the end of the song the faster beat prevails and a string of solos, frenzied drumming and bass play sends you rocketing through the ending of the song, and album. This not happens once, but twice, and leaves the listener shocked, and satisfied at the end. One last ending solo from Gary Lee and a frenzied drum beat by Pickerel that is basically the heavy apex of the album.